Posted by: jeannineatkins | August 2, 2010

Keeping a Journal

Here on my blog, I keep some record of my writing life, which mostly is an interior place, lacking much drama. Sometimes my friends and family come in, and I can post a few pictures. I make a few typos, but I do check for them, and I revise, unlike in my journal. which is bulky, messy and rife with contradictions: if not quite as yellowed as the one in the picture, my penmanship is even worse. There I empty out worries, obsessions, and occasional delights or observations so that my mind is clear for the work at hand, which is only peripherally about me. Once in a while something I’ve felt or noticed may sneak into history. Such as the little girl I heard last week yelling about two orange dragonflies over ancient tar to a family that seemed to pay no attention. I might transport some aspect of that back four thousand years.

My journals are pretty ugly, stuffed with both angst and petty concerns. But I keep them. They’re part of my process, getting out the day’s laundry so that I can focus on my subjects, but they end up on computer files or in stacks. I recently did some housecleaning and wondered if it’s time to let them go. They’re nothing I want anyone to read. I don’t think I’ll ever reread them. Then why hold on, when there are bags of other stuff I’ve tossed out? Mostly I believe the old journals are junk, but there’s part of me that wonders if they’re not only what’s shoved aside when housekeeping, but are also the house. At least for now I’ll keep them along with stones I’ve gathered that matter only to me. But matter.



  1. Keep them, please. Once gone, they’re irretrievable, and at some point, your family members will appreciate being able to see the world through your eyes. And even before that point, you may want to revisit a place/occasion/emotion from your past.

    P.S. USA Today did an article on journaling just last week:

  2. I’ve wondered whether to keep my old journals too. I never reread them, but I have the feeling that the minute I throw something out, I’ll wish I hadn’t.

  3. I haven’t kept a paper journal regularly since college – and I have all of them. And sometimes I peek at them and cringe. And want to throw them away, but it’s a part of me, a part of my history. So I made a friend promise to burn them upon my death. 😉

    I wonder if it’s time to write a journal in notebook again?

  4. I have a couple of journals I kept while pregnant with Sam or while Sam was very young that I’ve kept, but that I wouldn’t want anyone to read. For years, I kept them inside a Fisher Price box (I kept them because I wasn’t sure whether Sam would want them someday). When my house flooded a couple of years ago, and I wasn’t able to re-enter to help move our things out (because I was pregnant with Lily), I sent my mom to retrieve that box and take it with her, so that those who were helping us move wouldn’t find it. That box is still at her home in Iowa, and I’ve found I have no desire to bring it back home yet. I’m glad I’m not the only one who has journals they wouldn’t care to read — but that were helpful at the time. 🙂

  5. 🙂

  6. Just the thought of you tossing your journals sent a shiver of anxiety through me. Not sure why, but wanted you to know I’m glad you’re keeping them (for now). Whew.

  7. Melodye, I’m not sure about people wanting to see through my journal-eyes, but I appreciate your thought — and the link! Sending good wishes for August your way…

  8. Yes, that is a feeling I can relate to. It’s hard to do anything — definitive. Much easier to weed clothes and even books, which are replaceable in the case of regret.

  9. Debbi, I’m pretty sure if I peeked I’d cringe, too. Maybe writing in a notebook journal would bring you back to that college self. Which could be good: or not!

  10. So now the world knows about the Fisher Price box, and your mom!!! Well, the blog world. But it sounds like a good idea. There definitely do seem journals and notes that are important to the process of writing or becoming, and maybe no one else needs to see those. Even if the historian in me would quibble!

  11. Aw, thanks for the shiver of anxiety, Tracy. But I’m afraid there aren’t many diamonds in the dustheap, as Virginia Woolf wrote about journals: she had plenty. Still I think I understand your shiver. The journals are just close enough to the soul that it’s kind of hard to separate, even if it’s not a particularly pretty or telling part. xo

  12. I haven’t kept real writing journals, but I do know that my diaries from my teen years are in a box at my parents. Sometimes I wonder whether I should just chuck them, but like you I think I’ll probably hold onto them.

  13. Lovely!

    I had a box of journals I carried around with me since high school. I added to the box every few years or so until my early 30’s when I decided, prompted by a move across country (and then back) to empty the box. I read and thumbed through. Leaves fell out (I used to press fallen ones) there were scraps of tissue, streamers, and thousands of bad love poems.

    I carted the box to a friend’s place in Vermont and we had a bon fire. I watched the scraps of paper become ash and float into the night. And, for some strange reason, I felt free.

    I am not advising anyone else do this…it’s all about what the heart says. Yours says for your journals to stay and mine said it was time for mine to go.

  14. Sounds like the journals are in a safe place, in no one’s way. Bethany’s reply below yours is interesting re balancing saving versus freedom, but I don’t think you feel that issue at stake. A time to hold, a time to fling or burn!

  15. Re: Lovely!

    Talk about lovely! Thanks for this, Bethany. I agree there’s a time, place, and person for everything, and I’m so glad the bonfire of bad love poems released you.

    But let me know if you need any New England leaves for you to press come fall.

  16. Re: Lovely!

    Thanks for that lovely post, Jeannine, and for that wonderful response, Bethany. I have been keeping journals off and on for most of my life, too — the spill-everything, leave-nothing-out type. And in my late 20s, I knew there was one old volume that I needed to let go of. I still remember the shimmer of the air above the flames. The sadness didn’t go away, but it was easier to carry after those words were gone.

    Everything else, I’ve kept.

  17. Re: Lovely!

    Oh that shimmer of air above the flames. And carrying on. It’s inspiring to hear you and Bethany find lightness in the letting go. Hope August treats you well, Amy.

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